U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio delivered the opening speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, describing the 2010 elections as “a referendum on our very identity as a nation.”
Rubio framed the issue around his own life story as the son of immigrants from Cuba who came to America with “no English, no money, and no friends.” He recalled that an early age, he would sit on the porch with his grandfather, who instilled in him the idea that he was privelged to grow up in a country where anything was possible through hard work.
“Do I want my children to grow up in a country like I grew up in, or a country like my parents grew up in?” he asked the crowd rhetorically. “Do we want to be exceptional or be like everybody else?”
During his speech, Rubio argued that Democrats had used the bad economy as “an excuse to implement their statist agenda.” As a result, he said, “We are witnessing the single greatest political pushback in American history.”
In a few thinly-veiled jabs at his opponent, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Rubio said that in the new political environment, “A long list of establishment endorsements won’t spare you a primary.” He also added that, “The U.S. Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many.”
In a breezy policy section, Rubio expressed support for ending taxes on death, capital gains, and dividends, as well as slashing the corporate tax to make the U.S. more competitive. He argued for “simple changes” to the health care system that put consumers in charge of spending. And he called for “serious measures” to reduce the debt. Interestingly, Rubio got his strongest applause when he moved to national security issues, declaring that there was “no greater risk than radical Islamic terrorists.” He received a standing ovation when he called for trying terror suspects in military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay.
Rubio has been billed as a rising star on the right, and in some senses, his speech was the mirror image of then state senator Barack Obama’s 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention. To be clear, I’m not branding Rubio as a conservative answer to Obama or suggesting that this speech will have anywhere near the impact. But both speeches used similar framing to advocate very different ends. Back in 2004, Obama, similar to Rubio today, said that, “in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.” The difference is that Obama used that as a jumping off point to argue for a renewal of liberalism while Rubio used a similar theme to call for a resurgence of conservatism.